pectoral fin

Sightings: 9/8/19

Sighting from Tamalpais Charters vessel The Tamalpais for the Marine Mammal Center


On this special trip for the Marine Mammal Center, we headed west towards the Golden Gate Bridge. We spotted a few harbor porpoises near Cavallo Spire and some harbor seals close to the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.


As we headed out through the strait, we noticed lots of bird activity. There were a variety of types of birds present, including elegant terns, parasitic jaegers, brown pelicans, common murres, and Brandt’s cormorants.

Right around the demarcation line we spotted the first spout. It was a humpback whale. One of the first behaviors we saw was a body roll, where we got a good look at the pectoral fin of the humpback.

The whale was surfacing every few minutes and arching its back to dive, but we weren’t seeing any flukes from the animal at first.

The whale was definitely feeding. Birds hovered all around the spots where it surfaced, attempting to get the leftover anchovies.


The animal slowly moved west past the demarcation line. As we followed, we spotted a second spout.

We saw a shallow fluke dive from this animal which will hopefully help us identify the individual.

The wind was increasing and the tide was beginning to ebb, so we eventually started heading back in to the bay. On our way back to Tiburon, we stopped by Pier 39 to look at the sea lions.

There were also lots of birds in the area.

We also took a look at some of the whale bones on Angel Island, where the Marine Mammal Center performs their necropsies.

Sightings: 7/26/19

Sighting from Tamalpais Charters vessel The Tamalpais for the Marine Mammal Center.

On Friday morning, the Marine Mammal Center staff set out on a charter of the Tamalpais to find some whales. First stop was to check out the harbor seals hanging out on the docks at Angel Island.

Next we headed out to the shipping lane, where the conditions were beautiful. There was very little wind or swell, although there was some cold fog.

Near buoys 3 and 4 we found the first humpback whale. We were on the tip of the north bar, so the water was only 32 feet deep. More whales started to be reported in the area from the pilot boat and fishing boats. We followed them as they moved to the south side of the shipping lane. We were also seeing more spouts on the horizon, numbering at least ten in total.

We saw lots of activity from these animals, including a few breaches, body rolls, and pectoral fin slaps.

We also saw a few coordinated lunge feeds.

We slowly moved west with the humpbacks until we were about 14 miles offshore in 95 feet of water. Once the whales were in deeper water we started to see more of their fluke dives.

Thank you to Tamalpais Charters for a great trip!

Sightings: 7/17/19

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


On our first trip of the day we had beautiful sea conditions and excellent visibility with very little wind. We headed out past the shipping lane, where we found 5 humpback whales feeding.

The whales were in about 82 feet of water. 4 of them stayed within a few yards of each other for most of the time we observed them.

One of the whales had a propeller scar across its back. We identified her as the famous “Prop Mama.” She’s an older female who has had several calves, one of whom was killed by orcas a few years ago in Monterey. She is a repeat visitor to this area.

We saw lunge feeds from these animals as well as lots of fluke dives. We were also able to smell whale breath several times.

We also saw one whale roll on its side and slap its pectoral fin on the water multiple times. There were also a few tail slaps.

Near the end of the trip, three of the whales stuck together while one headed off in the direction of some small fishing boats.

We saw birds, porpoises, and sea nettles in the area as well. We were able to spend about 45 minutes with these animals.


On our next trip we headed out through the shipping lane, again experiencing excellent conditions. However, near the end of the shipping lane we hit a huge bank of fog with less than a quarter mile of visibility.

We moved slowly through the area as we started to see huge bait balls of anchovies.

Even though the fog was dense, we found a humpback whale.


We saw a couple of lunge feeds from the animal, as well as some shallow fluke dives. The whale ended up swimming around the boat about 50 yards from us. It was in about 100 feet of water.

A huge school of anchovies passed directly underneath our boat.


We saw some container ships moving through the fog in this area. When we started our trip home, the dense fog had moved east all the way to San Francisco Bay, meaning that it had crept about 10 miles east while we were watching the whale.


We also saw some common murres with chicks in this area.

Sightings Report: September 22, 2018

Sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


We headed to the north bar on this trip and found three humpback whales feeding in 47 feet of water.

Two of them were spouting and not showing flukes.


The farther one was slapping its tail and pectoral fins and continuously breaching.


We attempted to approach, but lost the whale.

Sightings Report: July 5, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat. All photos in this post taken by SFWT photographer Leigh. 


On this trip we were able to locate a mother humpback with her calf in out in the shipping lane between buoys 3 and 4. 


3-4 large container ships passed by the whales while we were there. We made sure they had plenty of space while other vessels were present. 

The two were not fluking much, although we saw a few fluke dives from the calf. They were slowly heading west. 


We spotted another spout a little bit farther north. The whale started moving east towards the bridge, and we followed at a distance until we moved back towards port. 


On this trip a crew member spotted a breach at Mile Rock while we were still under the bridge. 


The humpback whale continued to breach, followed by several pectoral slaps. We also saw several fluke dives. 


The whale slowly moved east, breaching and slapping continuously. 

A large container ship passed by us and the whale moved in to Kirby Cove, where we saw a breach in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. 


It then traveled all the way across to Fort Point and then back to the bridge. 


We also spotted lots of harbor porpoises near the end of the trip. 

Sightings Report: May 20, 2018

8am sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours trip on vessel Outer Limits

Heavy wind was in the forecast as we set out for the Farallon Islands on Sunday morning. We made our way out through the bay and up the north side of the strait, pausing near Diablo Cove to look at the harbor seals resting on the rocks. We also spotted some pigeon guillemots and a black oystercatcher on the rocks. 

Just beyond Diablo Cove we saw a spout. It was a humpback whale. 

The humpback was throwing flukes, occasionally coming within 100 yards of us. 

The whale seemed to be making its way in towards the bridge. We decided to leave the whale and continue on towards the islands. 

We turned north out of the strait, making our way up the coast. The section between Point Bonita and Bolinas was experiencing strong tidal action in addition to the heavy wind, so the water was rough. 

When we reached Bolinas we turned west and continued out to the islands. There were 6-8 foot wind waves. About 3 miles from the islands, we saw another spout, but we decided to continue on to the islands. There were lots of sooty shearwaters flying in this area. 

We made it to the Farallons and ducked into Fisherman's Bay. There were a couple of tufted puffins in this area.

There was a huge amount of common murres both on the rocks and in the water. Stellar's sea lions rested on the rocks. 

We made our way around the island to Mirounga Bay, were we spotted a spout. It was a smaller spout. After a few spouts we saw the body and were able to identify it as a gray whale. 


The gray whale traveled north and we followed for a while. When we reached the western tip of the island, the water got very rough and we decided to go back on the lee side of the island.


On our way back around we spotted some more puffins and a couple of rhinocerous auklets. 


We left the islands and started home, hoping to find some more whales on the way back. We had barely gone a mile when we spotted a huge spout. We had two blue whales in front of us. 

The blues moved northwest and we were pushed southeast by the wind. Slowly we drifted apart. 

We continued back towards the Golden Gate. Just after we passed shipping lane buoys 7 & 8 we found a distinct tide line where the water went from blue to gray-green and got significantly rougher. 

We were 3 miles from the demarcation line when some passengers saw a breaching whale. We approached and found the whale slapping its pectoral fins on the water. 


It then started breaching over and over again, followed by more pectoral fin slapping and some tail slapping. 

A large container ship passed by as we watched this activity. Two more humpback whales joined in, with one of them breaching. 

By the time we left the humpbacks we were almost at Mile Rock. The humpbacks were being pushed in with the tide just like we were. It pushed us all the way back to port. 

3pm sighting from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

The tide continued to come in as we headed out on our last trip of the day. We were heading through some rougher bay water when I saw a spout near the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

It turned out we had three humpbacks near the bridge. Gator and Topspot were near the north tower, with a third individual near the south tower. They moved together over the course of the trip. 

We saw several lunge feeds from the whales, as well as many fluke dives. Occasionally the whales would float on their side, showing one of the lobes of the fluke. There were a lot of smaller recreational boats out whale watching.

The whales moved in over the course of the trip. We were in the central bay by the time we left the humpbacks. 


On our way back in, I spotted a smaller spout near Alcatraz. I saw it once more a few minutes later. I suspect that it was a gray whale. 

We also saw lots of harbor porpoise surfing the current in the middle of the bay on this trip, in addition to harbor seals and sea lions. 

Sightings Report: May 14, 2018

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days


We found two bottlenose dolphins just past the Golden Gate Bridge. One was slightly larger than the other. They were bow riding and spinning underneath us. 

We continued out through the straight and past the demarcation line. Just past the line we found two humpbacks. 

The humpbacks stayed about 200 yards away and were slowly moving in. 


The weather was cold and foggy, but the waters were calm. 


The weather was the same as we headed out on our second trip of the day. Outside the bridge we saw several harbor porpoises going in all directions. We saw some California sea lions as well. 


We continued on to Point Bonita, where we saw two spouts. 

We followed along the tide line for a bit, but were unable to relocate the spouts. 


Suddenly I saw a breach to the south. We headed that way and saw a humpback slapping the water with its pectoral fin, followed by a fluke dive.

The whale disappeared for another fifteen minutes, then reappeared 1000 yards offshore. We were able to get one last look before heading in. 

Sightings Report: November 18, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days

We started off our trip towards the Farallon Islands with beautiful weather. As we passed north of the shipping lane, we found three humpback whales feeding, and two more spouts in the distance. The group of three was split up into one pair and one solo humpback. The pair surfaced in synchrony the entire time we were there. 

Humpbacks with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

Humpbacks with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

We continued on towards the islands, slowing at one point to look at hundreds of bright orange Pacific sea nettles drifting in the waters beneath us. 

As we approached the islands, I noticed something bright red near Sugarloaf. I started taking pictures and captured a few splashes. Birds started to swarm to the area. 

As we approached, I was able to confirm that we were approaching a large slick of blood, likely caused by a Great White shark attacking a sea lion. The frenzied birds dove into the water, some surfacing with pieces of meat. Sea lions were barking loudly and swimming in groups close to the rocks in Fisherman's Bay. We likely had missed the attack by just a few minutes. 

If you look closely where the splash is, you'll notice a fin!

If you look closely where the splash is, you'll notice a fin!

We continued around the islands towards Saddle rock, noting a large number of common murres perched on the cliffs. Water visibility was excellent, and we could see the bottom in many spots. 

In Mirounga Bay near the Jordan we spotted a couple of Elephant seals and some Northern Fur seals on the rocks. There was a large group of sea lions in the water. 

Since we had such excellent weather, we decided to head out towards the continental shelf. We had been heading west for just a few minutes when we spotted 2 humpbacks breaching over and over again. 

We approached slowly and were treated to one breach about 300 yards from our boat. 

When they were done breaching, the whales started slapping their pectoral fins, sometimes rolling over as they did so. We watched three humpbacks diving and slapping for several minutes. 

We noticed some huge spouts in the distance and thought that we might have some blue whales. We headed towards them and sure enough, we spotted 3 blues. Two of them were a pair surfacing together. There was one more large spout in the distance. 

We were far from home, so we had to turn around and start our journey back towards the pier. On our way back in we noticed a few king salmon leap out of the water, as well as some moon jellies and harbor porpoises. 

Sightings Report: September 18, 2017

All sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Kitty Kat


Our first trip of the day was very foggy. As we got close to the Golden Gate Bridge, we had a huge amount of bird activity from a wide variety of species. Many of them were flying west. 

We felt that we were passing a whale, but we continued out into the Golden Gate Strait. We found one humpback by Mile Rock. We approached very slowly, our already slow pace further reduced by a strong western swell/wind and the incoming tide. 

The whale was feeding right on the tide line, along with huge groups of birds. We saw a few fluke dives, one of them around 100 yards away from us. 

After we left the whale and headed back in, we found a whale by the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge - the one we had missed on the way out. 

Brown pelican.

Brown pelican.


When we headed back out for our second trip, the whale had moved further into the bay with the tide. We found it in between Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. It was moving west. We stayed 200-300 yards away as we followed the whale out, watching fluke dives and lots of bird activity over the whale. 

The whale would occasionally do a lunge feed followed by some time spent on its side, slapping or waving its pectoral fin. 

Anchovies boiled at the surface of the water. Birds were attacking each other in attempts to steal food. 

The whale stopped just outside the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge near Diablo Cove . We also stopped and put the boat in neutral.

After a few dives, the whale moved in towards us, surfacing 100 yards away. 

It disappeared for a while, then reappeared 20 feet from our bow. It surfaced again on our stern, where it did a few fluke dives. We saw some more lunge feeding and pectoral fin slapping. 

Lunge feed!

Lunge feed!

We saw quite a few harbor seals outside the bridge. 

The whale slowly moved away from us towards the center span of the bridge. We made sure it was at least 100 yards away before we started moving. 


By the time we headed out on our third trip of the day it was almost low tide. The outgoing tide made the Golden Gate Strait a lot rougher than it had been in the morning. 

We headed up the south side of the strait when we spotted a spout by Point Bonita. We waited for a container ship to pass before we approached. 

The humpback was feeding in the same spot as the whale on the 3pm trip yesterday. We put the boat in neutral and had our stern to the swell, allowing us to float 200 yards from the whale. 

Humpback fluke.

Humpback fluke.

The whale worked the same area the whole trip, moving in circles around us and coming as close as 100 yards. We only saw two fluke dives from this whale, indicating that the anchovies were most likely close to the surface. 

Humpback whale. 

Humpback whale. 

Near the end of the trip, the whale swam to our stern and came up on the other side. We made sure it was 100 yards away before we moved. The whale continued to parallel us at 120 yards for a few minutes. Once we were half a mile away we came up to speed. 

All sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic.

If you were on one of these trips and have photos, send them in to! I'd love to add them to this post for others to enjoy (with credit to you). Thank you!

Sightings Report: September 16, 2017

9am and 12pm sightings from San Francisco Whale Tours vessel Happy Days; 3pm sighting from SFWT vessel Kitty Kat.


On our first trip of the day we quickly spotted a single whale underneath the center span of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a humpback feeding on a 30-50 foot wall of anchovies in roughly 120 feet of water. 

The whale was 250 yards away, and we set course to position ourselves parallel to it, moving at 3 knots. To our surprise, it surfaced very close to our bow. We put the boat in neutral and floated near the bridge for the remainder of the trip. It was a good example of why it is so important to go slow around whales.

It was high tide, and dozens of harbor seals came up to check us out.

There was a swimming race happening underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, and the whales came quite close to the swimmers. 

This whale wasn't throwing flukes, probably because the anchovies were already close to the surface. 


When we returned there was even more traffic than when we had left.

A large amount of traffic in the bay.

A large amount of traffic in the bay.

Nonetheless, we found a whale in the middle of the Golden Gate Strait just outside the bridge. This humpback was showing its fluke, and I noticed that it had a different dorsal fin than the whale on the first trip, indicating that it was a different whale. 

The whale moved inside the bay near the south tower, then back into the strait. There were a few ships passing by and a lot of sailboats, motor boats, and smaller vessels. We were able to float in neutral just outside the bridge, where we saw a few close fluke dives. 

There was also some harbor porpoise activity on this trip.


I switched vessels and headed out on the next trip on the Kitty Kat. We saw a flare go off near the mouth of the Golden Gate Strait, so we went over to investigate. We found a small fishing boat in distress. Their motor wasn't working and they were caught in an outgoing tide. We called the Coast Guard and waited with the vessel until they arrived, keeping our eyes on a spout that was a few hundred yards west. 

When the occupants of the small boat were safe, we slowly approached the whale, which was just outside of Point Bonita. We positioned ourselves above the whale with the swell to our stern. 

The humpback surfaced a few times. It was 200 yards away when we saw the first full breach. I wasn't quick enough to capture that one on camera, but luckily it did a second full breach right afterward!

After that, the whale did 3-4 smaller breaches, then floated on its side slapping its pectoral fin for almost a full minute. 

As we floated in neutral, the whale then did two fluke dives 50 yards from our boat. It started heading east. We allowed it to get 100 yards away, then headed east as well. We kept a slow speed while the whale was nearby and waited until it was at least half a mile away before we came up to speed.

All sightings were reported to Vessel Traffic.

Humpback whale outside the Golden Gate Bridge.

Humpback whale outside the Golden Gate Bridge.

If you were on one of these trips and have photos, send them in to! I'd love to add them to this post for others to enjoy (with credit to you). Thank you!